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© Janos Schmidt / ITU Media /
Tom Bishop eyes Rio Pilot role
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Tuesday 23rd February 2016

Tags  Rio 2016  |  Thomas Bishop  |  Tom Bishop

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Tom Bishop wants to Pilot the Brownlee brothers to Olympic glory in Rio

"Yes, I am 100% going for the Pilot role. The third spot for the Olympics has been my only focus this winter..."

In the introduction to last week's interview with European Games Champion Gordon Benson, I outlined the implications of the Brownlee's pre-selection for the Olympic Games this summer. Specifically, the 'nomination process will proceed directly to the selection of a Pilot Athlete' criteria.

Benefitting from the use of a team approach in Baku, Gordon wants to play the 'helper' role in Rio this summer as his route to a place at the Olympic Games.

Related Article - Gordon Benson: aiming for Rio selection

Another athlete who has the same goal is Tom Bishop. Tom of course has already proven his skills in that role where, alongside Philip Graves, they worked for Gordon last year in Azerbaijan. That was a performance which resulted in a Gold medal and plaudits from everyone who watched it happen.

Tom is also a proven championship performer in his own right. From 2010 to 2012, Tom secured three consecutive World Championship medals, winning Junior Silver (Budapest) and two Under-23 Bronze medals (Beijing and Auckland).

Delly Carr / ITU

With his first race of the year at the World Triathlon Abu Dhabi just under two weeks away, I gave Tom a call to find out more about his plans and to confirm that Rio 2016 was a specific target of his.

"Yes, I am 100% going for the Pilot role. The third spot for the Olympics has been my only focus this winter and the first few races I'm doing are targeted towards that role. I want to go to the Olympics and this is the only way I can this year. I've been spending my time focusing on achieving the very high benchmarks set to be able to meet the demands and requirements of that position. They are tough, but I believe I can reach them."

Pilot training...

Tom told me that his training had changed significantly... but not solely because of the requirements of trying to target a different role.

"I've changed lots of things. I think I've matured as an athlete and have certainly been using the science side more - informed choice you would call it. I've been in the labs and done various testing, trying to use the resources that are available through British Triathlon to help my goals. It's really trying to link the experience and knowledge of people who have dedicated their lives to being the best in that arena (science), with my dedication to being the best athlete, to try and get the best results in the most efficient way."

Wagner Araujo / ITU

What does that mean in practical terms?

"Generally, I'm being a lot more specific in what I am doing. For the Pilot role, I've made a massive increase in my swimming volume, maybe 40% plus of my total training volume. For that Pilot model to work, I need to make that front swim pack every time.

"With running I've probably cut the volume by over half. You still need to be able to run, and run well, because in order to be eligible you still need to collect enough ITU points in your own right to be eligible for selection from the Olympic Qualification List. Every run I do now has a specific purpose."

Like Gordon outlined to me, even if his efforts towards the Pilot role do not end in success, Tom was confident that the overall process was a worthwhile one with no long-term damage to his own, overall, triathlon performance goals.

"Yes, some of the testing we've done has shown that it's not just fitness that impacts run speed. Of course, you need to do the miles and the basic sessions to succeed, but there are also running form and neuro-muscular reactivity issues that contribute to making you faster. Speaking with (Men's Head Coach) Ben Bright, he believes that longer term some of the things we are doing now will make me a better overall triathlete. Of course, it's difficult mentally to reduce the run volume when you are used to doing it, but you have to think of the bigger picture."

The selection process

Without a specific, objective measure in terms of selection criteria, what guidance had Tom been given in terms of key races?

"We need to perform at certain races, and Gold Coast has been highlighted really as the primary one that we need to be ready for. It's a beach start, and is probably the closest race to that in Rio. Being quite early in the season it will also provide enough time to properly prepare (for the selected athlete), or, if not selected, an opportunity to re-group and to focus on other goals. Really, I've not looked beyond that at all for the rest of the year. Around that time will be where we recover and reassess what direction of the rest of the year is."

From being a team-mate last year in Baku, training partner and having developed in the sport together over recent years, I asked Tom if it is difficult to separate those aspects from effectively competing against Gordon (and possibly others), who also have eyes on that final Olympic birth?

"I see it as a professional commitment to be the best I can be for that position. That takes away any personal aspects and allows me to focus on things I need to do and to stay motivated to do the best job I can. If the best person is selected then that's the goal - and if that's Gordon, then there is no issue for me. As long as we all do our best, I'm 100% confident that the selection from British Triathlon will be made on that basis."

Janos Schmidt / ITU

Looking back over recent races, Tom has on several instances, (notably Auckland in both 2014 and 2015 came to my mind), been seen pushing the pace hard at the front in WTS races on the bike. Had those races been with a longer-term view to this Pilot position?

Related Article - WTS Auckland Highlights Video 2015

"In those Auckland races I was not there in a formal Pilot role. I made a conscious decision to push the pace on at the front because I knew it would help Jonny, plus I knew it was also in my interests too because there were a lot of faster runners behind. I wanted to show I could do that role in competition. I also dropped back in London [Ed. when Jonathan Brownlee arrived in T1 to find his bike had a puncture] to try and get him back into the race. I've always thought of the bigger picture and I trust in the process. I'm 100% for it (the Pilot approach). It's important that Great Britain wins. We've got Spain and France challenging us and we need to beat them. Spain, in Gomez and Mola in particular, have some phenomenal individuals but I believe as a team we will beat them."

Memories of Azerbaijan?

What about memories of that European Games in Baku last year?

"I've actually done a few talks about that Baku experience, and I've always said it was one of my best moments in triathlon. If Rio goes like that, it will be awesome. We were committed to trying to get Gordon into the best position for the run and we believed that he could win if we could implement what we had planned.

"We spent a lot of time in the week leading up to the race talking through all of the different scenarios and what we could do in different situations. 'Plan A' didn't really work, given I was in the front swim pack and Gordon and Phil were behind with the chasers, so then the approach was how do I stop that front group breaking away and potentially getting a lead, so I tried to break up the rhythm by doing an 'attack' myself.

Janos Schmidt / ETU

"That had the desired effect and eventually the race all came back together again. When that happened, I attacked again to get away and then the hope was that then with Phil's help, we could bring Gordon up to the front while leaving the 'runners' behind in the main pack. That worked out perfectly. Phil did an amazing job over the last 20km in driving the pace. I did a few turns to try and help, but really my work was over the first half and then Phil's was that last 20km into T2. I think we had something like a 1:45 gap. It went perfectly and fair play to Gordon for holding on for the win, because Joao Silva was chasing him down hard. If we can work like that as a team in Rio, I can't see how anyone can beat us."

The future - long distance ambitions?

Whatever happens this year, is Tokyo 2020 the longer term goal?

"There's the Commonwealth Games in two years which is a great target, but going to the Olympics is a big career goal of mine. The British Triathlon programs are currently set up as a 2016 and 2020 'squad', and for the moment at least, I'm part of both and I do want to be there in Tokyo. There's a lot of talent around at the moment - and if it were the best for the team, I would work to sacrifice my race as part of the team there too."

Tom also has ambitions to move into longer distance, non-drafting races and thinks that 2020 could well be the right time for that to happen. A very strong swim-biker, he thinks he could do well.

"I think that would be the time when I would be looking to move towards the non-drafting / Ironman type racing. That really does appeal to me. ITU racing really has had a revolution over the last eight years and I think we'll be seeing more of that trend continuing with Ironman racing, which we have been seeing with guys like Jan Frodeno who are racing there with really no weaknesses.

"You would expect that Javier will take on Ironman sooner rather than later and I think everyone thinks he will do well as he's such a talent, but also is so balanced and strong physically. I think with the likes of Javier and Alistair when he eventually does move up, you'll see the runs speed up a bit at the sharp end. You've got to back Alistair too; I think he's more than capable of producing something exceptional, just as he has done within ITU."

Tom told me of some motivational training he did in Australia with some of the legends of Ironman racing...

"I did some training in Noosa, Australia, which really got me motivated. I was with Jan Frodeno, Pete Jacobs, Luke McKenzie - some of the absolute best Ironman athletes in the world - and it really opened my eyes. It was only a 90min chaingang ride, but it gave me confidence that I can ride with guys like that and potentially be competitive.

"That confidence is important. I've maybe struggled with that a bit over the last couple of years when you lose that spark a little after several injuries interrupt your progress. I feel good now though and training is going well."

What appeals about the longer distances?

"I think there is potentially a lot more variety. There are so many different races in different locations."

Janos Schmidt / ITU

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